Pennsylvania State University will continue allowing some students to attend in-person classes after reporting an additional 275 cases of the coronavirus since Tuesday, most at its flagship campus in State College.
University officials said the increase in cases is manageable, and students are cooperating with contact tracing and quarantining when needed. And Penn State isn’t seeing hospitalizations or broader community transmission.
“At this time, we do not need to change our current modality and hybrid on-campus approach,” said president Eric J. Barron. “The university is monitoring the number of positive and negative cases — and other variables critical to our decision-making — including isolation and quarantine capacity, hospitalizations, locational data, transmission from student cases to employees, and community prevalence, to name a few.”
The university reported a total of 708 cases, up from 433 on Tuesday. The school said 289 of those cases, all but one being students, were from the last week on the main University Park campus. About half of the quarantine and isolation space there is in use, the school said, and almost 100 students have recovered and are moving out.
University officials warned last week that a surge in cases might force it to revert to remote instruction temporarily or for the rest of the semester, and urged students to avoid gatherings over the Labor Day weekend. Earlier this week, Penn State announced it had to quarantine more than 140 nursing students on its Hershey campus, and it paused some sports after 48 athletes tested positive — the largest number since the testing of athletes began this summer.
Leaders of student government and some faculty groups have been calling on Penn State to revert to remote instruction for weeks, fearing the campus' operations were endangering faculty and students, as well as the local community. Case counts in Centre County, home to the main campus, which enrolls more than 40,000 undergraduates, have been rising, fueled by Penn State’s numbers. The county has 925 cases, including 429 new ones this month, according to the Centre Daily Times.
Villanova University, St. Joseph’s University, and Rowan University are among other large schools in the region continuing with in-person instruction and many students living on campus. Villanova has 60 cases, 19 of which are active, while St. Joseph’s has reported 54 cases. Rowan has recorded 179 cases, 129 of them since Aug. 25.
» READ MORE: Coronavirus cases at Penn State doubled since Friday
Others have reverted to remote instruction. Temple University, which as of last week had recorded 368 cases among its nearly 40,000 students since the pandemic began, moved to largely remote instruction and told the 3,200 students living in its residence halls they would get a full meal and housing refund if they chose to leave by Sunday. Earlier in the semester, Bloomsburg University, with 8,600 students and 286 cases, also moved to remote instruction.
Penn State has been testing students with symptoms or close contacts, as well as conducting random testing of about 1% of the system-wide population daily.
The university launched its coronavirus dashboard last month with few cases. Between Sept. 4 and Tuesday — which included cases that had trickled in over the long weekend — the count grew from 215 to 433.
Testing positivity rates have varied from week to week. Students with symptoms or known exposure who sought testing have tested positive 10% to 15% of the time, the university said this week. Random testing of all students, including those who show no symptoms, has had a much lower positivity rate. The highest rate was last week at 2.2%.